Welcome to day 8 PSYJuly 🙂
In 2013, fellow seeker and Shanghai based expat Matt Nicol and I embarked on a journey to Huangshan, the famous Yellow Mountains of China. We did so armed with only two small backpacks, twenty joints, and two bombs of αMT. I am delighted to share Matt’s account of an incredible day during our time there…
Twenty Two Plus One
The howl of another Chinese man-child spreads voraciously around the valley below. Beginning to fathom the splendid view he could contain himself no longer and then, barely gripping the handrail, leaned fully over the ledge to bellow and roar. Guttural flashes bounce over every crevice and return to us. I am here, he says. In the great expanse of time of all creatures and people who have stood here and documented their existence, I, too, am here. The mountains do not register; the mountains show no inkling of encouragement or receptivity: they give no concern for the sound echoed by past and present. What joy, what exuberance, to behold this man registering his powerful fragility amongst the vastness. Enveloping in a cry the girlfriend stood awkwardly by the deep reds that fade to nascent yellows, all punctuated by the green and browns of the miracle pines that line these sights.
How long did we stand there? In total, the time it takes to walk one step. We’d followed this man, of thick expression and oval features, for all time. We’d followed this woman, perplexing and quiet, time and a half. For our purpose we were a little less than halfway through endless present moments.
An alarm had been set that day. Agreed the night before, it would sound two hours before sunrise. And it was so. In one movement the alarm was silenced and a bomb was dropped and sleep resumed. Then, it sounded again. An hour already? Five more minutes. It sounds again. It’s time. Weary feet find shoes and trousers and the correct path. Darkness meets a coy lightness; they narrate our way, gradually revealing the path over and under the mountains.
Paused ascent becomes the resting place as we continue to come up. My companion takes a closer inspection on all fours. Clandestine smokes are the final preparation as eyes penetrate the day. Slowly, in bursts, accustomed in parts of a whole but not wholly. A place by the path, we settle and wait and watch our silence united. The approaching luminary comes. Layer upon layer of detail is stencilled in to the valley.
A black ship rises, dancing against the again invigorated blue. A medley of shapes twirl before us but it disbands, there is no encore. Yet there is no need, see there now, as if for the first time, the pregnant glow of the horizon. It arrests us all but calls mesmerizingly, the moment comes it comes it comes it is here: an orange crescent that reaches to us gladly in warmth and wisdom.
O great giver of life we are here today to greet you.
Millennia of solar worship are understood. Yet it is only after the fact that I am able to extricate these points to recognise them, to deconstruct the symbiotic perfection of that sunrise. In this moment filled with weightless understanding. In this moment caged by returned analysis. In this moment all is there: limitless and limited and all wondrously connected. The sun reveals amber shoulders and a darkening, smooth belly, its warm caress softly closing your eyes and demanding you perceive it.
Cheers further down the way pepper the slow ascent of the globular monster. Its brightness blinds at first, seeming to irradiate from a single point above the line of sky and earth; it tempts appreciative peeks and wild smiles as suddenly it towers above the morning’s mist and ignites. Warmth descends and guides rising spirits: the eyes must close to it now and instead feel the gentle consistency of its presence against body and person.
Petal led legs fold as the hands adopt their pose,
feel the dear sensation now the sun has rose.
Sit with the breath and the mind shall rest,
in a body worn as clothes.
The sun it rises and our faces smile and the matinee peace sits with us here
by this mountain path,
by this sheer drop,
by this vast ocean valley before us.
We have been sitting here now for a short while though most are beginning to return. Now the moment has passed they slink away in their groups, chatting and laughing and planning the day ahead, there is still so far to go. We sit by the path with its gentle stairs, short plateaus and sudden descents, scuffling shoes, and droplets of conversation. Our backs face a staircase and from here there is a sheer drop in front of us; the body on which we sit begins to stretch out somewhere below, straining to greet its temperate and rough companions. Mere specks on the shoulder of a slumbering beast, we have never seen as far as we do now: through mountaintop and rich valley stretching to where the sky tries to catch the fleeing earth. There are trees next to and above us, catching the sun and casting back shadows, before gleefully floating on breezes. Down far to our right the path swiftly becomes cloud and we can see no further.
A group now approaches, I can hear them sounding young and tired but pleased, and they pass us now and start to leave. Faintly recognizable from a chance encounter in darkness the night before, one approaches to ask if we remember them. Of course, we smile, greeting him and the bemused rest.
He says, may I take your photo?
Well, I don’t see why not.
You are handsome and cool, he says.
My brother, you have no idea.
A short shoot is arranged, first alone and then with befriended strangers. They know not of what they have touched this day; we garner this attention by merit of paler skin and stranger clothes and perhaps wider eyes. You have all become a part of our trip, friends, and for that we thank you before you go. Now they are gone, a thought: to whom has that photo been shown?
Yet we did not ascend to such a peak unassisted, and though we may still have further to climb this day it is unlikely to be in so isolated a state as this now. Soon the gates and cables will be opened and social media snappers will infest this celestial place. Perhaps just a little while longer, here we have time and no time and thus no fear. A certain solemnity has marked the whole occasion: expectations of wild thought and breathless talk have yet to bear fruit; instead, we sit in the shade of silent discussion. There we have the plan for the day and here we decide that now is when we should start to move on.
With everything now returned to bags and backs and a final salutation of the sun committed, we begin to return. A short journey, though it visits several peaks and troughs, will take us to our place of rest: a mountain-top hotel upon a peak grazed by clouds. With the bags then packed and ourselves assembled we begin our saunter, skipping lightly through leaves and stones. Approaching a sheer drop staircase, the path we follow gently dissolves and becomes a forgotten part of the grand expanse of sky. It seems we’ve nothing in front of us now, merely these stairs that have been sculpted from rock.
Then, appearing without care, a splendid view: one majestic peak, three smaller kneeling before it, and a precarious stair path that snakes along, inviting and calling to us to follow this road. We had been sat from this sight for some hours in ignorance of what was before us, so now we stop, paused, wide of mouth yet nostril breathing, at the view. Jagged barren tips that reach from feet some distance below us are lined with trees and stand casually by. They need no appreciation, the quiet rest ongoing from an explosive birth inside the earth eons ago. We are pebbles, if not grains of sand, and begin to return as we must.
Just one step.
The short walk to the hotel seems shorter than the night before but only as a concept of time has evaporated. First we may look back to where we had been before, toward a great height that seems unimaginable now. Then to the side, away from our safe view down into the great life of below, a hand still placed on the rock face, just lightly so. Or still forward, the undulating path that patiently waits for us to pass – that we may never return matters not, it is only that we may survey these great swathes of being. Beauty may be appreciated, yet it remains a projected conceptualisation from within: no matter, we will get closer to truth.
The carpets are louder and the staircase wider and the corridor the longest I’ve ever seen. Tracing through the faded memories of this Technicolor floor and dearly anticipating the soft, safe sanctuary of that far-flung corner door. It clicks open. First there is the protrusion of the bathroom, then two single beds opposite a dresser; the fourth wall is a window to another marvellous scene. Music, we need music. Felled like a tamed impala, I dissolve onto the bed with eyes brightened by clouds kissing crags and the looming solemnity that awaits this juvenile pool. Still yet we sit in silence. Of what use now is talk? We are spoiled by this view, this experience, this sensory heaven. (We know we will have to leave later, though such a time seems impossible so then discussion needless.) Seconds slide past our window. The soundtrack to our bliss-movie winds through hibernation and wonder. Raspberry Cane drops: one of my great ecstasies. Crawling and running, funnelled and expansive; into and through the silent and screaming recesses of mind. Circling now, still yet circling, closer to being and being further than before:
Nature is my nature,
Time is my view,
Beauty is my mantra,
beautiful is Truth.
Having checked out, pleasantries abounding, we return to the square just outside and settle into our walk. To feel sunlight and breeze eases the spirit and we begin: a single step to take us over three peaks and a valley. We gently pass through a careening mass of people who shout and spit and see only five megapixels at a time. We sit to let them pass, we smile as they snap us, our silence to their chatter, their lives and ours joined by passing glances. And then we continue, as they do too, too many views to recount in moments that were endless.
I have been struggling with these countless stairs, not knowing where to look: need I see my feet to walk or may I look further out? I still have half of this narrow staircase to tread and yet, the right hand rises, softly grazing then gently placed upon the rock face it lands on understanding.
We stand before a signpost with our maps outstretched though they don’t agree with each other. Which path is the right to tread? We choose, walk, choose, walk, and arrive in time.
There are mentions of rain showers all around us; a fear of falling water accelerates the saunters. We all huddle until it passes.
As I reach the bottom of another set of stairs I glance to my left to see my gaze caught by a monk. In that moment that we share we find time to communicate complete understanding.
Again, we take rest, there’s no need to hurry. My companion notices a small mountain spring and is taking the opportunity to refill our empty bottles, repeating the act for many of those who pass the other way. One young girl is astounded, Foreigners, is the explanation of her wise, smiling grandfather.
We have been following a young couple for some time, scaling a great peak before greatly accepting its adjacent decline. They kiss and skip and chatter, often looking back to see us both simply stepping through arpeggio raindrop cascades. They emerge to a peak and gasp, letting go of hands and inching toward the edge. Hear him now: hear how he howls.